Matthew 5: 3 - Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
In the last post in the 'sermon on the mount' series, we talked about the fact that those that are poor in spirit are blessed. And though I alluded to who is considered to fall into the category of being poor in spirit, this week I want to dig into this further. Here is my first follow up question to myself, “does the fact that there is a category of people that Jesus describes as poor in spirit mean that there are some people that aren’t poor in spirit and therefore not in need of God?” As far as I can see in scripture, it’s a pretty quick and easy answer. No, there isn’t an elite group of human beings that are somehow “wealthy in spirit” all by themselves and therefore have no need of God. Since the very first human beings (aka Adam and Eve) chose to declare independence from God and a reliance on themselves in the garden of Eden, we have all been poor in spirit. Jesus isn’t saying here that there are some humans that are poor in spirit and there are some that are not. Technically and according to the bible, we are all poor in spirit and in need of salvation from God.
We see this in Romans 3: 23 where it says “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”. So literally think about the nicest person you can imagine. They might spend all their spare time helping out the homeless, in their day job they might literally save lives like a firefighter or doctor and at the dinner table they always let someone else have the last slice of chocolate cake. Basically, they are sweeter than sugar and warmer than a bag full of sunshine. Still, this person without God has fallen short of God’s vision for us in Genesis and is still poor in spirit.
This answer then leads me to a follow up of the follow-up question, which is “if everyone is poor in spirit, does that mean everyone is also blessed?” That’s very cute, but I think not. We are not instantly blessed because we are in need of salvation and it would not make sense that our need for salvation would lead to us having the kingdom of heaven. If that was true, then we wouldn't actually need salvation to qualify us and cover us to enter back into God's presence as in the garden of Eden. In Matthew 5: 3, Jesus is not saying just the very state of being poor in spirit would instantly mean that we are blessed. He could have easily just said, “blessed is everyone because you’re all poor in spirit”. Also Matthew 5: 3 is the first of 8 categories of people that Jesus describes as “blessed”. This section of scripture, Matthew 5: 3 - 12 (also known as the beatitudes) is specifically highlighting a group of people that are separated from the general population because of a particular characteristic or because they meet set criteria, so in separating the “poor in spirit” from the general population, Jesus would not have been referring to everyone as blessed even though everyone is technically poor in spirit.
Just to clarify, so far in this blog post I have confidently written that everyone is poor in spirit, but Jesus wasn’t talking about everyone here. This might lead us to follow up question number three which for me is “could Jesus have been referring to an extra special state of being “poor in spirit” that is apart from the norm?” And I think this would be a good time to climb out of the descent into follow up questions and to simply begin to talk about what I think Jesus was saying in this section of His sermon. The way to read this scripture is to realise that Jesus was saying blessed are all those who recognise that they are poor in spirit, for they will inherit the kingdom of God. It might be worth going back to the last post, to read about how the solution to being “poor in spirit” is to receive the “good news” of the gospel. But to break it down in a slightly different manner, what Jesus was saying is that when a person recognises that they are “poor in spirit” it means that they are in a prime position to receive the good news of how to access God’s spiritual wealth. They are now able to rely on the victory of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, over sin and death as their salvation.
Looking at this from another direction, if a person doesn't recognise their spiritual poverty and their need for God, they are quite incapable of accepting the sacrifice that Jesus Christ made for them. They are incapable of accepting the good news, because it cannot be good news to them. It cannot be good news to them because if they don’t recognise that they are poor in spirit, they will not see a need to access God’s spiritual wealth and therefore can’t have the kingdom of heaven. The good news to them is simply information that isn’t relevant. Without knowledge of their spiritual poverty, why should someone else tell them how to live their life? Without seeing God's spiritual wealth, why would they let His way of life override their way of life?
This is exemplified in Mark 2: 16 - 17 when Jesus explains why He was eating with sinners by saying “those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” In this Jesus wasn’t saying that the Pharisees were righteous, so they had no need of Him and He would instead focus on the sinners. We know that the Pharisees were not righteous in the eyes of God. John the Baptist called them a “brood of vipers” which doesn’t scream righteousness to me. Jesus was saying because of their self-righteousness He could not help them. Until they were ready to admit that they were sick (poor in spirit), they would not be able to come to the doctor to get help.
And now we get to the reason for spending more time on Matthew 5: 3 and who exactly falls into the category of being poor in spirit. We can see in Mark 2, that there are many that thought they knew God but yet they did not fall into the category of having the kingdom of God. And it’s easy enough to point fingers at the Pharisees, but I’d like us to spend some time pointing the finger back at ourselves and considering our state of mind. As much as some of us might be in the church, are we relying on our good works to close the gap of our spiritual poverty or are we relying on the good news of the gospel? When you think about going to heaven, do you think it’s because you sing in church, or because you drive the church van, or teach bible study, or take the children's groups or make tea and coffee? Or do you think it’s because you don’t lie, steal, fornicate, or gossip?
Yes, we are called to not sin and to use our gifts in the house of God. In fact, later on in the sermon we’ll see how Jesus denies knowing a group of people that thought they walked with Him because they were habitual sinners. But if you think that avoiding sin and doing anything and everything in church will get you into the kingdom of heaven it is a sign that you might not truly recognise your spiritual poverty. As I said earlier, even a person who is sweeter than sugar and warmer than a bag of sunshine is still poor in spirit. Thinking that we can do something outside of believing the good news of the gospel to make up for our spiritual poverty is the trap that the Pharisees fell into which led to their exclusion from this "blessed" group of individuals who recognise that they are poor in spirit. So here's my question to you, is there a chance that you've fallen into the same trap?